Today begins Holy Week and for all practical purposes the bookends of the week are the retellings of the Passion. There is good reason for this, for the central act of our faith is that Jesus both God and Man submitted to the degrading death on the cross.
We could like St. Paul focus on how the Divine One became human and humbled himself to die on the cross as we heard in our reading from the Letter to the Phillipians.
We could like many early Christian theologians look back on this section of Isaiah’s prophecies and claim that the Suffering Servant is in fact Jesus and that Jesus knew that he would not be disgraced by his death on the Cross but vindicated by his resurrection.
Yet the more Christians reflect on the Passion the richer will their understanding become. For me the special blessing of this Passion Sunday is a reason for Jesus’ sinlessness. It struck me as I was praying the proper for Lent during the Great Thanksgiving.
As a child I believed Jesus lived without sinning to prove that it could be done. Later I thought: well, of course he could live without sin—he was divine.
But the revelation that I received just a few Sundays ago is that Jesus was without sin so that he could be the perfect offering, the sacrifice that pitted God’s love for humanity against brutish political expediency and power.
Some compare Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac with God’s willingness to sacrifice Jesus but I think the comparison must be that Jesus was Abraham, Isaac, and the Ram eventually sacrificed.
Like Abraham Jesus was obedient to God’s command to make the sacrifice, like Isaac he had to trust His Father’s greater knowledge, and like the ram he was the substitute sacrifice—substituting for us in our human propensity to focus on ourselves as the center of our own universe making decisions without regard to what God might want for us.
But Jesus was the sacrifice in accordance with the Temple worship of the day: spotless and the first and only offspring of God.
I wonder if He chases out the money-changers and those selling animals for sacrifice so that there can be no substitute for himself and in so doing gives another reason for the priests to seek his death: greed–for their flow of kickbacks has been interrupted.
Those are some of my thoughts as I begin my own personal Holy Week pilgrimage. I invite you to participate as fully as you are able in the services of this week and take time to contemplate the cross—not the shiny empty one denoting the Resurrection but the one with God hanging off it, open to all the human pain.
As Christians, we lose much if we jump to Easter without regard to all the costs inherent in Good Friday